Roush Review: 'Briarpatch' Is Furiously Entertaining & Wildly Unpredictable

USA's Briarpatch Review
Review
John Britt/USA Network

It's always a hot time in the old Texas town of San Bonifacio (aka "St. Disgrace"), where the temperature hovers around 100 degrees — the perfect climate for digging up rabbit holes of corruption and murder. Breadknife weather, one resident calls it: "When you crank the burner this high, they don't even bother reaching for the pointy stuff before they start stabbing each other."

Or blowing up cops in their cars, which is how the perilously twisty intrigue of Briarpatch gets underway. Adapting Ross Thomas' 1984 novel (successfully gender-switching the lead to a female) into a close-ended story, the first of a planned anthology, this is like a sweaty Fargo. It piles on the quirks amid the baroque suspense so you're never quite sure when it's OK to laugh.

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You will anyway, thanks to the clever writing and outrageous plotting of executive producer Andy Greenwald, working with Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot), whose stylized way with sound, music, and baroque visuals is a strong influence. In this environment, it almost seems natural to see a zebra in a parking lot or a tiger prowling a hotel hallway, all recent escapees of the local zoo.

For the sultry, sullen investigator Allegra Dill (a glamorously slow-burning Rosario Dawson), the town is a "poisonous s--thole" she thought she'd escaped long ago. Returning to her roots after her younger sister, a police officer, is killed by a car bomb, Allegra seethes in quiet fury as her search for the truth keeps being derailed by new layers of bizarre mystery.

Rosario Dawson's Allegra in Briarpatch

(Scott McDermott/USA Network)

Adding to her frustration is an assignment from her boss, a smug senator, to get intel from Jake Spivey (Jay R. Ferguson, a grinning bear of cagey charm). A childhood pal, he came home rich from illicit gun-running in the Middle East and now lives in a mansion with pet giraffes. Armed guards surround him, protecting him from a looming showdown with his fugitive ex-partner, Clyde Brattle (a sly Alan Cumming, oozing evil when he appears in the third episode).

For a small border town, San Bonifacio has more than its share of Peyton Place romantic complications and Tom Clancy–level conflagrations. After screening eight (of 10) episodes, I'm not sure how or if it all ties together. But even at its murkiest, Briarpatch is furiously entertaining and wildly unpredictable. It's that rare thrill ride with smarts — and exotic animals.

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Briarpatch, Series Premiere, Thursday, Feb. 6, 10/9c, USA